Myanmar minister makes landmark visit to Rohingya camp

Myanmar Social Welfare Minister Win Myat Aye (L) talks to Rohingya refugees during his visit to the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh’s Ukhia district on April 11, 2018. A Myanmar minister on April 11 toured one of the Bangladesh camps struggling to provide for some one million Rohingya Muslims, the first such visit since a Myanmar army crackdown sparked a massive refugee crisis. / AFP PHOTO / MUNIR UZ ZAMAN

A Myanmar minister on Wednesday toured one of the Bangladesh camps struggling to provide for some one million Rohingya Muslims, the first such visit since a Myanmar army crackdown sparked a massive refugee crisis.

Social welfare minister Win Myat Aye visited the giant Kutupalong refugee camp near the border city of Cox’s Bazar, part of a three-day trip to Bangladesh, officials said.

It is the first time a Myanmar cabinet member has visited the fetid and overcrowded camps since a military crackdown that began last August in response to a spate of insurgent attacks forced some 700,000 of the Muslim minority to flee across the border.

They added to the 300,000 Rohingya refugees Bangladesh already hosted from previous bouts of violence.

Win Myat Aye was “meeting officials at the camps,” local police chief Abul Khaer told AFP, adding that International Organisation for Migration representatives were involved in the talks.

Rohingya leaders in the camps said they would welcome the opportunity to meet the minister in person.

“We would like to meet face-to face with the minister,” one leader, Mohibullah, told AFP.

Sources told AFP he was due to meet some 40 Rohingya community leaders while in Kutupalong camp.

The Rohingya have faced decades of persecution in Myanmar but the most recent crackdown has forced them to flee in unprecedented numbers.

The United Nations and United States has called Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya in the past eight months “ethnic cleansing.”

Win Myat Aye is deputy head of a task force led by Myanmar’s de facto civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi on the crisis in Rakhine State.

He has overseen a stalled agreement with Bangladesh to repatriate some 750,000 refugees.

Myanmar has approved several hundred Rohingya from a list of thousands to return to their homeland but no one has yet crossed back.

Many displaced Muslims have said they fear a repeat of persecution that has forced them off their lands if they go back.

Refugees demand recognition as a minority, access to health and education and an assurance they can return to their ancestral villages rather than being shunted into resettlement camps in Rakhine.

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